“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson
One of the most successful and controversial works of Robert Louis Stevenson is a novella “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” first published in 1886. There are two main characters in this book: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The most interesting fact about the story is that these two characters are one human being. They are two entities in one body, two different sides of one person.
Initially, they look nothing alike: well-mannered and respectable doctor Jekyll and hideous, violent Hyde seem to be two almost opposite types of people who would not be able to communicate with each other if they met. This contradiction leaves a reader guessing who is who and leads to a shocking truth at the end of the novella. Altogether, the main character is a conscious, violent, and passionate man who sinks into the abyss of aggression and madness.
Dr. Jekyll is a good person who follows the rules, if we put it as simple as it is. He is a respectable man, a scientist praised by society. He does charity work and reads religion books. Though he organizes parties for his friends, the main topics discussed at those parties are literature, science, and religion. He is definitely interested in studying the duality of human nature. He realizes that every person consists of “good” and “evil” and one day, he tries to separate these two opposing facets. He starts experimenting with different potions trying to separate the evil side which is truly intolerable for him as a conscious man. It is very important to note that Dr. Jekyll has a conscience because he knows that what he is doing as Mr. Hyde is bad. When he tramples over a little girl, he emerges with a check for 100 pounds. One may argue that he was just scared by the crowd wanting to kill him, but I see pangs of conscience in this act. The other example is when he asks Dr. Hastie Lanyon to take the potion from his laboratory, so that he cannot drink it and transform to Mr. Hyde again. His conscience takes over again when he stops taking the potion for two months. He decides to do that after he wakes up in Mr. Hyde’s body. He realizes that his experiment gets out of control. His main mistake is that he does not understand that he is both Jekyll and Hyde, a man he has been and will always be.
Mr. Hyde is an evil side of Dr. Jekyll, his alter ego who indulges in different undisclosed vices. He is more energetic, smaller, younger, and, basically, villainous man. Although nobody can name the specific feature that makes him ugly, everybody agrees that he is a dark twisted man who inspires disgust and fear. He is repeatedly described as “timid yet bold” and compared to a monkey or an ape. He definitely surrenders himself in many undisclosed pleasures, but the main characteristic I can give him is that of violence. He feels pleasure committing a crime, for instance, when he beats to death an old man named Sir Danvers Carew. There was no reason for him to do that. It was an act of pure violence. In the other episode, a woman spoke to him offering a box of lights. He smote her in the face in reply. His transformation into Mr. Hyde is also described as an immensely violent process. It is accompanied with nausea and grinding in the bones. It underlines the enormity of change that is occurring with his body.
Despite the obvious difference between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, they have more traits in common than it might seem at first sight. The characteristic that makes them closer is passion. They are both passionate in their own way. When Dr. Jekyll drinks the potion, he craves to succeed in separating his two essences. Likewise, Mr. Hyde passionately kills and destroys and feels pleasure engaging in violence. The first example of passionate attitude is when Dr. Jekyll drinks the potion for the first time. He realizes that he is risking his life and that this potion can simply kill him. Yet, his struggle to succeed is much stronger than rational reality. The other example is when he stopped drinking the potion after involuntary transformation into Mr. Hyde while asleep. He led a respectable life for two months. Yet, his passion took over one more time. He could not resist anymore and wanted to try the potion again. It led to an old gentleman’s death. The murder of that gentleman is another example of passion. Mr. Hyde’s uncontrollable desire to harm others cannot be explained by reasoning. Dr. Jekyll embodies many positive features such as courtesy, intelligence, conscious, and charity work. Yet, he does not represent pure virtue as Mr. Hyde does not represent pure evil. His main idea was to separate those two entities. The potion worked the other way. It created a separate darker side but did not reveal his angelic side. He remained Dr. Jekyll with all his flaws, doubts, and fears. At the same time, Mr. Hyde represents pure aggression and violence and is prone to follow the instincts.
Curiosity and passion pushed Dr. Jekyll over the edge. Many people can relate to the claim that once somebody starts exploring darker parts of his/her personality, there may be no turning back. That was the case with this man. At first, he was able to control transformations into Mr. Hyde but with the time, his darker personality gained more control over him until the moment when he started transforming unconsciously. Jekyll realized that he had to make a choice and stopped taking a potion. For two months, he was living as a conscious human being, but he tempted to become Hyde again. Thus, his darker side started taking control over him. It was the beginning of the end. There was nothing left than to commit a suicide to free himself from his darker side.
Nevertheless, it still is a topic for discussion whether he decided to die consciously in Jekyll’s body or as Mr. Hyde.
“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson is a complex story that incorporates many topics and tells us about a man torn apart by his good and bad sides, thus, analyzing the dual nature of human being. The theme of duality can be traced in many other Gothic Romantic works such as Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I consider this topic to be universal, boundless, and understandable for all the readers, which definitely explains the popularity of Stevenson’s book for more than 120 years.
The novella not only makes us think about the duality of human being as a phenomenon but also ponder about over attributes. The inner battle between good and evil pushes Jekyll to start his experiment. The interesting element is that Dr. Jekyll was planning to separate his two essences, his angelic and darker side, with the help of the potion. The potion managed to separate two elements, but it did not purify them. It created a devilish side, but Dr. Jekyll still preserved his flaws. His experiment and the initial idea to separate positive and negative elements of his persona failed. The potion encouraged and strengthened his darker side but did not make any justice to Dr. Jekyll as a conscious man. Jekyll thought that “man is not truly one, but truly two.” He might have made a mistake, because a man, perhaps, is not “truly two.” Initially, a man is a wild, violent creature oppressed by civilization, morality, ethics, and law. All these elements act as a superstructure in relation to human nature. In this case, the potion only strips away all the civilized elements and frees the inner animal. At the same time, Hyde commits violence for the joy of it. No animal does that, which brings me to a conclusion that civilization has its dark side too. It suppresses human instincts establishing tons of rules. At first glance, it may seem to be a good sign because civilization makes us moral, ethical, and well-mannered human beings. At the same time, we still have that inner beast that wants to break free. It especially makes sense if we are talking about Victorian England. This period had many restrictions, boundaries, and rules of behavior. There is no surprise that people wanted to express themselves in a more passionate way, as Dr. Jekyll eventually managed to do.
Stevenson’s novella is an allegory about the good and evil that exist in every person, and struggle with these two sides. It is an everyday lifelong battle, and people can relate to it. Though Stevenson clarifies that there are two aspects of human nature, he does not specify of what they constitute. Such an uncertainty makes this novella even more important and amusing because it is up to a reader to answer the question what is primal in human being: darkness or virtue.